After an absence of over a year, the Seventh Doctor returns to Big Finish, as Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford reunite for two brand new audio adventures! Silver and Ice sees the TARDIS team battle Cybermen in a run-down mining town, before returning to the frigid planet Ribos, where crafty crook Garron is up to no good. Has this new boxset been worth the wait? Read on to find out!
1. “Bad Day in Tinseltown” by Dan Starkey
The Doctor and Mel arrive in the frontier town of Brightedge, nicknamed Tinseltown because of the strange, shimmering deposits found in the local mine. After encountering the cybernetically-enhanced ‘Big Gerald’, the Doctor raises suspicions that all is not as it seems in Tinseltown, and, along with Mel, begins to investigate. Soon, the Cybermen have taken over the town… but all is not as it seems. Who is General Polly Juno? And might she have underestimated her new silver allies?
Bad Day in Tinseltown is, according to the promotional material from Big Finish, meant to replicate the fun, colourful kinds of stories we saw in Season 24 of Doctor Who, featuring a more rompy plot and eclectic side characters. Unfortunately, I felt that Dan Starkey‘s script used all of those elements in the worst possible way. The plot is so simple it’s barely worth thinking about, all of the characters are completely one-dimensional and pretty badly performed
Regarding the guest characters in the piece, I found it odd that Dan Starkey pays homage in the extras to the ‘colourful guest characters’ played by ‘stunt casting’, and yet the team at Big Finish completely ignored this in terms of acting and direction. Every one of the guest characters here is a complete stereotype with no emotional journey, from the southern saloon owner and sleazy town mayor to the bolshy army general and the brutish tough guy; hardly what you could describe as colourful. As for the casting, some of the performances are utterly atrocious- believe me, I hate to be negative about acting, but there’s a particular character in this story who might just be the worst-performed role I’ve ever encountered from Big Finish.
Meanwhile, the Cybermen are very poorly used, and the promise of a battle between two factions of the silver menaces is greatly underserved. The 1960s Cybermen are as unintelligible as they were in January’s The Secrets of Telos (review here), while the 1980s Cybermen barely do anything at all. As Mel’s first encounter with the Cybermen, and the Seventh Doctor’s first chronological battle with them, there’s so much more that could have been done
The one saving grace here is Steve Foxon‘s sound design and music. He gives us a thrumming, Western-esque guitar score, helping to set the location and mood, while conjuring up collapsing mines, alien wrestling matches and advancing Cyber armies with flair.
Uncreative, badly-performed and ultimately unmemorable, I unfortunately have to say this is the worst story released by Big Finish so far this year. Poor.
2. “The Ribos Inheritance” by Jonathan Barnes
Returning to the planet Ribos, the Doctor is shocked to discover that Sun Time, the thirty-two year period of sunshine, has not begun as it should, with the frigid Ice Time still in full force. As he and Mel investigate, they come across an old acquaintance, the shady conman Garron, while, elsewhere, Ribos’s king, Kari, faces off against the overzealous Duke of Hishtar. As these separate strands intertwine, what secrets will be revealed? Is King Kari all he seems? What happened to Sun Time? And what lies ahead for the Doctor?
The Ribos Inheritance is, as suggested by the title, a sequel to the Fourth Doctor story The Ribos Operation, returning to the world of Ribos and exploring it to a far greater degree. While Jonathan Barnes does a good job at fleshing out Ribos, giving us tantalising hints at what society at large is like there, it’s not obvious until the fourth part exactly why this had to be a sequel, rather than a completely unrelated story set on another planet. Even when all is revealed, nothing is really done with the revelation, meaning this doesn’t really feel like a sequel that is particularly necessary, as it doesn’t add very much to the mythos.
Sylvester McCoy gives an excellent performance here, portraying a hybrid of the more fun-loving Seventh Doctor from Season 24 and the darker, more manipulative character who emerged in Seasons 25 and 26. The beginning of the first episode and the fourth episode’s coda, wherein these aspects of the character are most explored, are the most compelling moments in the story, and I wish Barnes had delved into this more throughout the piece, because there is some truly interesting stuff at play here. Despite this shortcoming, McCoy shares a strong rapport with Bonnie Langford as Mel and David Rintoul, whose portrayal of Garron is never anything less than fun.
Overall, The Ribos Inheritance is far and away the better story in this boxset, with creative worldbuilding and a genuinely compelling final part with some nice twists, but it still isn’t great, suffering from a dull plot and two middle episodes that really drag. A touch above average, but fairly uninspiring.
Silver and Ice is the weakest boxset from Big Finish so far this year, consisting of two dull, clichéd stories rooted in hackneyed ideas and uninteresting characters. The Ribos Inheritance is miles better than the frankly appalling Bad Day in Tinseltown, but it’s still completely unmemorable. As with Forty from earlier this year, it baffles me why Big Finish have chosen to launch this new Seventh Doctor Adventures range with two stories based on existing characters and situations rather than doing something fresh as with the First, Second, Third and Sixth Doctor series. Unrecommended.
Silver and Ice is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com